Michael Rex has made a career of sorts out of spoofing classic children’s books of yore. As such, Goodnight Moon becomes Goodnight Goon, Runaway Bunny is Runaway Mummy and Curious George is the stellar Furious George Goes Bananas. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but parody ain’t nothing to sneeze at. Now Mr. Rex switches gears a little. You can go on spoofing picture books until the cows come home but why limit yourself? If you’re going to rework a classic go big or go home. Go for the gold. Take on a classic in the best sense of the term. You don’t need to have read Conan the Barbarian to enjoy Mr. Rex’s new graphic novel series Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian but knowing the books won’t hurt your appreciation either. Basically, if you’ve been waiting around for a series about third graders with swords and deadpan deliveries your prayers have been duly answered.
A warrior never shirks from danger, even if that warrior is just a kid. When the fate of the world (universe?) depends on Fangbone!, a pint-sized expert at arms, to take a supernatural object (a baddie’s big toe) to another dimension (our own) he literally leaps at the chance. Finding himself at Eastwood Elementary School he immediately attaches himself to a good-natured if slightly ADD kid named Bill and places himself in class 3G. There he begins his plan to defend the toe from supernatural baddies and to build an army. Neither task is easy, but with Bill at his side every step of the way Fangbone quickly becomes a force to reckon with in a world gone weird.
Recently small one-color graphic novels have been making a mint. The credit goes entirely to Babymouse, a series whose pink and black (sometimes orange and black, sometimes red and black) interiors changed the game. Suddenly you had books like Jarrett Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series (canary yellow and black) and Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath books (green and black) following in its footsteps and raking in the change. The advantages to this kind of printing cannot be stressed enough. The standard line is that kids won’t read black and white comics (not true, but that’s the general wisdom) so by using a single color you avoid that pitfall while also keeping your printing costs low. Fangbone! is very much along the same lines with an orangish-yellow accompanying the standard black. You might notice that it’s not full color for half a second there. Yet it will only take about a panel or two for you to get sucked into the story and to make you forget.
Plus it’s hard to resist. The cover of Fangbone pretty much says it all. Here you have a dead serious, sword-toting, furry underwear sporting, 8-year-old (or so) warrior standing next to a goofy redhead grinning over some tasty hot wings. Fangbone’s tunnel vision regarding his quest and complete lack of a sense of humor is oddly refreshing. There’s a weird comfort in his utter disregard for elementary school politics and niceties. When he brushes off the school bully as immature it’s very satisfying. Rex also has a great sense of deadpan. There are moments when Fangbone will give the reader a half-lidded blank look that appears to be straight out of a Bloom County comic strip. He’s also good at capturing how kids operate. The “special” class that Fangbone and Bill are in contains the kinds of outsider kids you might well recognize. There’s the one that always says that things are “dumb”, the one who wants to be a robot, the one who keeps taking off his shirt . . . they’re realistic without being tropes you’ve seen a million times before. And yes, there’s the requisite gross out humor as well. A toilet discussion, a dismembered big toe that keeps making an appearance, booger eating, etc. It’s considerably less than you’d find in your average copy of Captain Underpants but enough to attract a certain kind of boy readership (though girls, I have no doubt, will get a kick out of this book as well).
Basically this is a story where a stranger comes to town bearing a toe (not his own) and brings together a ragtag group of misfits. It’s like Shane meets The Bad News Bears with some hound-snakes and dirt devils thrown in for spice. War and Peace it is not, but I have a vague suspicion that someday some of the kids who read this book might stumble on some old Robert E. Howard short stories about Conan the Barbarian and try it out. And as crazy as that sounds, I think that would be a fantastic use of their time. Long live crazy pulp classics! Long live incredibly amusing graphic novel sagas! Long live Fangbone!
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
- Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
- Earthling by Mark Fearing
- Mr. Rex talks about how the series came to be on Anita Nolan’s blog,
- See the book trailer here.